Wednesday, December 19, 2007

White Flight from Public Schools.

“Schools" are a perennial topic of discussion in the Dayton area, both in the media and online, and probably everywhere else. A topic I usually tune out.

But I did make a lengthy contribution to Esrati today on the subject, and want to elaborate a bit.

I was responding to suggestions for a countywide school system, based on my experience in Kentucky. One of the points was that whites would leave public schools if they had to go to school with a lot of minorities (which, in this part of the USA, usually means blacks).

In the case of Louisville/Jefferson County, the school system I was familiar with, there was a substantial minority population due to bussing for racial integration. This has led to more and more whites to opt-out of the public system, until now about a third of the white school age population is in private schools. The public school student population is now around 34.1% black.

Locally, Dayton City Schools also had racial integration. A similar percentage of the white school age population is attending private schools (32.4%), and the public school population is nearly 70% black.

This chart shows the move to private schools for white students based on certain grade groups. What’s interesting is one can see an accelerating departure from public education in Louisville with the younger cohorts, while in Dayton there is a consistent range in the low 30%s

What might account for a fairly stable situation in Dayton is that whites in Dayton are likely to be lower income, thus don’t have the resources to leave the public system. As the Louisville system is countywide there are more affluent whites with the resources to go private, which they apparently are doing.

The question of what is a tipping point in public education for white flight has been addressed elsewhere. From an article on school integration in Charlotte NC , is this passage.

Whites will go to schools that are 60 percent white and 40 percent minority," said Clark. "When it gets down below 50-50, they will not go. Whites will just pull out and if new people are moving to the district, they will look at the school structure in the city and say, 'Well, I can live in a neighboring county.'"

With schools, the move toward the tipping point usually doesn't start with racial discomfort, but rather with a general perception that a school system is somehow inferior. Because middle and upper-middle class whites are typically the first to bypass the system in favor of private schools or public schools in surrounding counties, the system becomes increasingly populated by minority students, and increasingly low-income. At around 50 percent white, race increasingly begins to drive the abandonment of a public school system.

It becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, said Charles Gallagher, an assistant professor of sociology at Georgia State University who studies race and ethnic relations.

"The presence of a sizable minority population then becomes a proxy for the quality of the schools," said Gallagher.

Taking a look at a few Dayton suburbs one can see there is somewhat of a correlation between the % of blacks in a district and the % of whites going private (particularly in Huber Heights and Trotwood). The exception is Kettering (the city of Kettering, not the school district), were there is a surprisingly high number of white students going private. One wonders what the explanation for that is (or I should go back & check my numbers)?

It’s also interesting seeing the 9% of students going private in Oakwood, which is said to have the best school system in Montgomery County. One would expect the % to be lower, 5% or less.

In closing it seems this statement from the Charlotte article does sound familiar when talking about Dayton and vicinity:

With schools, the move toward the tipping point usually doesn't start with racial discomfort, but rather with a general perception that a school system is somehow inferior.”


Matthew Sauer said...

What if Dayton Public simply went out of business and all the kids in the city got vouchers to go to a suburban district? That would keep suburban districts in charge of their admin and budgets, and leave the minority question (if indeed this 50/50 threshold correlates as you suggest) somewhat obfuscated. That is, a relatively even dispersal of minority and non-minority city kids to the surrounding districts would not change the perception of the "quality" (both acheivement and, perhaps, code for 'white'?) of those districts.

Matthew Sauer said...

Two follow-up questions. Do you have any data on when DPS went, as a district, from 50-50 black-white to majority black? Also, have you looked at Raleigh's schools? They are purported to be one of the best public districts, and it would be interesting to compare their demographics. I believe they are a county-wide district, or at least Raleigh has annexed surrounding communities.

Greg Hunter said...

I will comment more on other parts of the article, but the private school participation in Oakwood is interesting. It points too the fact that if you are wealthy it is about where you live and schools are not secondary but about choice, because cost is no object . I would suspect that the choice of private school breaks down into religious (Catholic...) or selection for a better school than Oakwood like Miami Valley.

Jefferey said...

Going out of business is pretty much what happened to the Louisville City district, but it was just taken over by surrounding suburban district.

In Dayton's case that couldn't work as there are mulitple suburban districts.

Vouchering out to suburban schools would be a supply/demand problem. Presumably city students holding the voucers would try to get into the best suburban systems, thus demand exceeding supply. But it would be an interesting experiment in school choice, using public systems.

The 50/50 threshold was postulated by a social scientist in that article on Charlotte. Personally I think the tipping point is lower than that.

I don't have a history of the racial makeup of Dayton City schools. I do know, for Jefferson County, the black/white % was between 12% and 15% black when integration started in 1975-76.

Doing a comparison with Raleigh would be pretty easy if it was a countywide or citywide system. The census has all that by county and county subdivision (ie incorporated areas and townships)

Jefferey said...

"I would suspect that the choice of private school breaks down into religious (Catholic...) or selection for a better school than Oakwood like Miami Valley."

Or out of the county altogther, like off to "Saint Grottlesex".

Anonymous said...

The percentage of private school kids in Kettering shouldn't be surprising given the concentration on Parochial Schools (3 Catholic grade schools and a Catholic High School). If you could extrapolate the Dayton data for the Belmont area I would imagine that school children living in the Lower-East-Side (south of 35) would be attending Parochiol schools at upwards of 50%. Since those schools are a part of a parish and those are still more or less geographically based, folks live in the general area of their church and their kids attend the parish school. A place like Belmont High School is hardly a reflection of the neighborhood it sits in, while most of the high school age kids in the Belmont area (Catholic or not) attend Carroll. It has become the 'neighborhood' school for East Dayton.

Anonymous said...

I've always found schools to be one of the oddest aspects of the Dayton region -- the people obsess about them to a degree I've not observed elsewhere. Perhaps its because this is one of the most fragmented school areas I know of -- there exists dozens of school districts within very short drives of one another, creating a very flexible market that people can pick and choose from one. In many cities, choosing another school district involves very different property values, commutes, and tax levels.

Jefferey said...

So Kettering is the "catholic suburb"?

I was wondering about how a strong parochial school tradition might have played into those Louisville numbers, as that city is heavily Catholic, with an extensive network of suburban parishes, many with parochial schools.

Jefferey said...

As to Sammys remarks...this area is akin to Chicagoland, as there is quite a bit of fragmentation in suburban school districts there, too.